Lent, Day 6

LOOK: Breathe by Billie Bond

Bond, Billie_Kintsugi Heads
Billie Bond (British, 1965–), Breathe (diptych), 2018. Black stoneware, resin, gold, 15.8 × 13 × 7.9 in. each. [available for sale]

This pair of ceramic busts by British sculptor Billie Bond is inspired by the Japanese art of kintsugi, or “golden seams,” by which a broken pottery vessel is repaired using gold lacquer. With this technique the cracks are purposefully accentuated rather than hidden, and the mended object is even more beautiful than the original.

Japanese American author, speaker, and artist Makoto Fujimura has spoken extensively about kintsugi as a metaphor for human brokenness and mending in Christ. We come to Christ in fragments; he lovingly puts us back together. The scars remain, but like his, they shine.

For Bond, the kintsugi heads represent human fragility and resilience—particularly healing after grief or psychological trauma, and enlightenment gained through experience. View more of Bond’s kintsugi sculptures here.

Bond, Billie_Smashed ceramic head
Smashed ceramic head by Billie Bond, before being reassembled and repaired with gold

LISTEN: “Come Healing” by Leonard Cohen and Patrick Leonard, 2012 | Performed by Elayna Boynton at Crosswalk Church, Redlands, California, 2012; and on The Farewell (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack), 2019

O gather up the brokenness
And bring it to me now
The fragrance of those promises
You never dared to vow
The splinters that you carry
The cross you left behind
Come healing of the body
Come healing of the mind

And let the heavens hear it
The penitential hymn
Come healing of the spirit
Come healing of the limb

Behold the gates of mercy
In arbitrary space
And none of us deserving
The cruelty or the grace
O solitude of longing
Where love has been confined
Come healing of the body
Come healing of the mind

O see the darkness yielding
That tore the light apart
Come healing of the reason
Come healing of the heart

O troubledness concealing
An undivided love
The Heart* beneath is teaching
To the broken Heart above
O let the heavens falter
Let the earth proclaim:
Come healing of the Altar
Come healing of the Name

O longing of the branches
To lift the little bud
O longing of the arteries
To purify the blood
And let the heavens hear it
The penitential hymn
Come healing of the spirit
Come healing of the limb

O let the heavens hear it
The penitential hymn
Come healing of the spirit
Come healing of the limb

* The official website of Leonard Cohen, maintained by Sony Music Entertainment, capitalizes “Heart” in this stanza; same with “Altar” and “Name.”

Known as “the poet of brokenness,” Leonard Cohen (1934–2016) is widely considered one of the greatest songwriters of all time. Spiritual yearning characterizes quite a few of his songs, the most famous of which is “Hallelujah.” He was Jewish, with a respect for other spiritual traditions and a fondness for Jesus Christ as a universal figure.

“Come Healing” is from Cohen’s 2012 album Old Ideas. Elayna Boynton, perhaps discovered through this YouTube video from a worship service at her Southern California church, was asked to record the song for the 2019 film The Farewell (an excellent watch!). Cohen’s deep growl of a voice, though it has its admirers, is not attractive to me, so Boynton’s cover really helped me hear the tremendous beauty of this song.

Elliot R. Wolfson describes “Come Healing” as “a poem that is prayer in its purest distillation, a prayer clothed in quintessential nakedness, an anthem that celebrates and laments the wholehearted fragmentariness of the human condition.”

The speaker prays for healing of body and spirit, head and heart. We bring our failures and our lack, our guilt and regrets and all manner of pain to the altar, to the “gates of mercy.” We long to bloom, to be purified. In the mystical unity of love that ties our hearts to God, our hurt hurts him. His heart breaks over seeing us suffer, whether as a result of our own sin (which is what Cohen’s “penitential hymn” seems to focus on) or due to things outside our control.

When we bring our cracked or shattered selves to God, acknowledging our inability to fix the damage, he will restore us to wholeness.

While spiritual salvation is granted instantly (at least in the understanding of my tradition) to the one who turns to God, through Christ, in faith and repentance, what about other types of brokenness that we come to him with? Why won’t he heal us of that chronic physical condition? Or that debilitating mental illness? Or the effects of trauma? Why won’t he heal that broken relationship between us and our parent, despite our efforts at reconciliation?

I don’t have an answer for that—why, though none of us is free of pain and hardship in this life, some suffer much more than others; or why some receive healing and others do not. But eventual wholeness, shalom, is promised to those who are in Christ. In the new heavens and the new earth, salvation will be holistic, infusing spirits as well as bodies, minds, relationships, systems, and the whole created world.

And sometimes we do receive glimpses of that wholeness here and now! Sometimes the cancer goes away. Sometimes the depression is effectively treated, and fulfillment made possible again. Sometimes the sobriety sticks.

Often God is piecing us back together slowly, such that the progress may be imperceptible until years later, we look back and can see it.

The song suggests that although we don’t always deserve the slings and arrows that come our way, neither do we deserve the lavish graces God bestows. Sometimes we’re so focused on the one that we fail to see the other.

Even though complete wholeness is not possible in this life, God still invites us to reach out to him with the shards of our life, to seek his healing in specific areas—with faith that he can heal whatever it is that’s broken! He will tend to the shards with loving tenderness. And maybe put them back together in a way we didn’t expect.

Roundup: Grief work, kintsugi, “The O in Hope,” and more

INTERACTIVE PERFORMANCE ART: DIG: A Hole to Put Your Grief In by Cara Levine: Last month artist Cara Levine led a weeklong collaborative project in which she invited those in and around Malibu to join her in digging a hole to visualize the depth of grief being experienced right now in response to personal losses as well as national and global crises. Carried out on a property owned by the Shalom Institute, the project was inspired in part by the Jewish ritual of shiva, the seven-day mourning period following the burial of a family member, during which the bereaved discuss their loss and accept comfort from the community.

“Whatever one is grieving is welcome—be it the loss of a loved one, or more nuanced and subtle grief—the grief that comes with aging, with watching children grow, loss of friendships, habitat, completions to other life cycles, opportunities, loves, that one won’t see flourish, and so on,” Levine wrote in an email to Hyperallergic.

Levine, Cara_Dig a Hole to Put Your Grief In
Cara Levine, DIG: A Hole to Put Your Grief In, August 14–21, 2021, Shalom Institute, Malibu, California. Photo: Nir Yaniv.

“Part of the act of inviting others to share in the digging, is an invitation for the collective to lift the burden of the individual. I think digging together, expressing the depth and weight of the grief all around us, can be a shared burden.”

At week’s end the hole was filled with water and transformed into a mikvah (ritual bath) for a ceremonial hand washing, before being refilled with the original dirt. As arts writer Matt Stromberg reported, participants were invited to write down what they were grieving on sheets of paper embedded with flower seeds, which were then buried in small pots that could be taken home, while native seeds were scattered in the hole, a symbol of renewal. Though I, living on the opposite coast, didn’t participate, it sounds like it was a meaningful time of healing and of giving and receiving support.

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VIDEO: “Mending Trauma” by Makoto Fujimura: In this video from the 2019 Theology of Making series from Fuller Studio, artist and author Makoto Fujimura describes the Japanese art of kintsugi (literally “golden seams”) and how it reflects the beauty that can emerge from our own fractured hearts and lives.

“Kintsugi theology,” he says, is the theology of the new creation, and it’s embodied by Jesus himself. His resurrection body retains the wounds of crucifixion, but there is light flowing through them, suggesting how our traumas will be carried into the new creation but wholly transformed. Like broken bowls mended with gold.

Check out the three other videos in the series:

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SONG: This video, taken in June 2015 by someone from the Free Burma Rangers humanitarian service movement, shows an Assyrian Christian woman in Kurdistan lingering behind after church let out, singing a praise song to Jesus alone in a pew. She had recently returned home after having fled an ISIS attack. [HT: Global Christian Worship]

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NEW BOOKS:

>> The O in Hope by Luci Shaw, illustrated by Ned Bustard: “Combining a joyful poem from the much-celebrated poet Luci Shaw with playful cut-paper art created by Ned Bustard, The O in Hope helps us experience the goodness of God’s gifts of hope and love.” I found out about this recent release from IVP Kids at a Zoom event, where Shaw [previously] read the poem—it’s so delightful!

>> First Nations Version: An Indigenous Translation of the New Testament: “Many First Nations tribes communicate with the cultural and linguistic thought patterns found in their original tongues. The First Nations Version (FNV) recounts the Creator’s Story—the Christian Scriptures—following the tradition of Native storytellers’ oral cultures. This way of speaking, with its simple yet profound beauty and rich cultural idioms, still resonates in the hearts of First Nations people.

“The FNV is a dynamic equivalence translation that captures the simplicity, clarity, and beauty of Native storytellers in English, while remaining faithful to the original language of the New Testament.” The project was carried out by an eleven-member council selected from a cross-section of Native North Americans (elders, pastors, young adults, and men and women from different tribes and geographic locations) and overseen by Ojibwe storyteller Terry M. Wildman. Here is Wildman reciting the FNV translation of the Lord’s Prayer from the Gospels, accompanied by his wife, Darlene, on cedar flute: